|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Virginia Woolf is nothing to be afraid of
By Carey Weinberg
London's Grand Theatre is a theatre of war until April 4. With Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the Grand has blood and guts trickling off the stage and onto the audience's conscience.
Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Viginia Woolf is a verbal assault that tends to make an audience uncomfortable with characters relentlessly jabbing each other. And although the play is physically static, its verbal fluidity makes for an interesting, if not painful feeling.
George (Peter Donaldson) is a professor at the college run by his wife Martha's (Brenda Robins) father. George and Martha are the quintessential dysfunctional couple who bring the new upstart professor Nick (Greg Spottiswood) and his mousy wife Honey (Deborah Drakeford), back to their house after a faculty party.
Unbeknownst to Nick and Honey, they enter into a battle of wits between two heavily armed snipers who will make them the ammunition. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf takes place in George and Martha's living room. The word 'living' is used loosely it more accurately takes place in their 'killing,' or 'maiming' room.
Robins and Donaldson deftly handle the roles which demand heartlessness and dark wit. Albee sets up Shakesperean-style banter between George and Martha under a veil of blades. There's even a sequence akin to 'the sun and the moon' dialogue from Taming of the Shrew. George and Martha's dialogue symbolically deviates from its predecessor in that it's missing the sun. The banter dwells on the moon with its shroud of darkness which runs through the whole play. The light emanating from the stage comes from Robins' and Donaldson's rapport which is strikingly quick and will improve throughout the play's duration.
Obtaining pleasure through the misfortune of others is a difficult requirement placed upon the audience, but playwright Edward Albee demands an active participation from audience members. Some of the plot may seem cryptic and difficult to follow, but Albee intentionally and carefully constructs this play as such for a purpose.
What is said and what is meant is the dichotomy through which meaning from this play must be divined. There is so much subtext that it is sometimes difficult to follow the surface plot. And one of the cast's strengths is the ability to deliver the goods naturally.
Harold Pinter, one of Albee's contemporaries, says language is simply a smoke screen for what is truth. Language is something people twist and manipulate in order to fulfill personal agendas.
The play is riddled with secrets, misconceptions and dramatic ironies which the cast avoids overemphasizing. A metaphor dragged throughout is the game. George and Martha constantly refer to the action and dialogue as a game they are both attempting to win. The game metaphor is physically demonstrated by some clever staging.
Between acts, the stage rotates showing how the tables have turned, or how the balance of power shifts. And there are several crucial moments in the story in which Nick and George face each other like kings on a chess board.
Spottiswood's portrayal of the arrogant, smooth Nick is effective, but somewhat lacking in smoothness, especially when he isn't speaking. Since George and Martha use Nick and Honey as pawns, there are few moments where Spottiswood and Drake get to verbally flex their acting prowess, however, they do come through in those moments.
Drakeford, who's character is a mousy, high-pitched, giggling drunk, in her largest moment turns surreal and powerful. She makes it count.
The applause at the end is muted, not for lack of a solid performance, but because it is so utterly draining to watch. Between Martha's brazen sharpness, which she uses to emasculate her husband and George's calculated, intellectually-severe marksmanship which he uses to retaliate; the audience is left reeling from the shrapnel which reverberates into parts of our own dysfunctional experience.
"THERE, THERE. YOU'RE NOT, I MEAN, WE'RE NOT TOTALLY DYSFUNCTIONAL." George (Peter Donaldson) and Martha (Brenda Robins) take aim at one another in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.